By Marwa Awad
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian parliamentary elections to smooth transition to civilian rule will take place in three stages to make it easier for monitors to oversee voting, a member of the ruling military council said on Wednesday.
General Mamdouh Shaheen told a news conference in Cairo preparations for the elections for the lower and upper houses of parliament will begin in September and the vote will commence at least a month after. Exact dates will be announced by the military after September 18, he said.
Voters will cast ballots for both the lower and upper houses at the same time and the elections will be held in 120 voting districts. A period of 15 days will separate one stage from the next, during which any re-run will be held.
Shaheen said staggering the vote would ensure judges could monitor polling thoroughly.
"The army's role during the elections will be to provide security only. Only the judiciary will monitor," Shaheen said.
It will be the first election since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in February. A military council took over after Mubarak, vowing to hand back power to an elected civilian government before the end of the year.
In the last election in November, Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) crushed opponents in what critics called a rigged vote that contributed to the outbreak the uprising that toppled him.
The new rules signal a return to the kind of judicial supervision used for elections in 2005, which brought the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political force in Egypt after the dissolution of the NDP, its first seats in parliament.
Mubarak replaced the judicial supervision with a central committee rights groups said failed to prevent widespread rigging.
The Islamist group withdrew from November's election after the first round, complaining of ballot stuffing, thuggery and bribery by Mubarak's allies. It had fielded candidates as independents to get round a ban on religious parties.
"This is a good step. It's a positive guarantee for judicial supervision," said political scientist Mustapha al-Sayyid.
"Holding elections over three stages allows the judges to be present.
Unofficial campaigning has already begun, with an array of secular and left-wing groups vying with resurgent Islamists for the political terrain opened up by the dissolution of Mubarak's behemoth NDP.
Shaheen confirmed the vote would be split between a proportional system of party lists and geographical seats, with half of the 504 seats in the lower house assigned to each.
That could make it harder for any one group to secure a clear majority and may dampen challenges for the presidency, to be decided in a vote later in the year.
The army has pledged to hand power back to civilians after the elections, which were originally set to take place in September but could now happen as late as November.
(Reporting by Marwa Awad and Dina Zayed; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Sophie Hares)